SPRINGFIELD If the children can't come to the dentist, then the dentist will come to the children.
That's the strategy behind a new statewide initiative of the Massachusetts Dental Society Foundation that launched its Mobile Access to Care (MAC) van Tuesday afternoon at the Springfield Boys & Girls Club on Carew Street.
Springfield was the first stop on a 13-community tour for the MAC van. Throughout the next five years, the van will bring its dental services to low-income children in those 13 communities, Dr. Robert Boose, executive director of the Massachusetts Dental Society, explained to Reminder Publications.
Boose said the idea is to start children in the habit of seeing a dentist at an early age. The van will provide exams, cleanings, fillings and minor extractions to young patients and the van personnel will refer the patients to a local dentist for continual care.
Boose added that once children are seeing a dentist on a regular basis, he hopes the children's parents will also start seeing a dentist.
The Dental Society is working with YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and Headstart programs across the state to identify the low-income children who will receive treatment, he said.
The van was purchased through $250,000 from Proctor & Gamble, which manufactures Crest toothpaste and Oral-B toothbrushes. Delta Dental Insurance contributed $275,000 over a three-year period to fund the operation of the van. Boose said he believes the Dental Society will be able to procure funding for an additional two years of service.
The Valley District Representative to the Dental Society for the project, Dr. John Sullivan of Westfield, said the appearance at the Springfield Boys & Girls Club was just a "preview tour" of the van. Children lined up to go inside the van to see its two state-of-the art digital operatories and were then rewarded with a "goodie bag" with items to encourage good dental health.
The van will start operations in February and will be servicing patients 48 weeks out of the year.
Sullivan said that nation-wide there are 51 million children who suffer from health complications brought on by tooth decay and other dental problems. In Massachusetts, 14 percent of the state's children do not see a dentist because of financial reasons, he added.
"[The van] is a way of reaching out to the community and giving something back," Sullivan said.